Since playing Houston on Nov. 23, the Browns have lost three starting quarterbacks to injury -- Brady Quinn with a fractured finger that day (although it was fractured six days earlier) and Derek Anderson the next week with a torn knee ligament in a game against the Colts. Ken Dorsey was put on injured reserve Wednesday with a concussion after just three starts.
Bruce Gradkowski is next in line. He has been on the job with the Browns a little more than three weeks and will start Sunday in Pittsburgh against the No. 1 defense in the league.
Quarterback Richard Bartel was activated from the practice squad to replace Dorsey on the roster. Josh Cribbs could be listed as the backup to Gradkowski, but he sprained his ankle in practice Wednesday.
Gradkowski will be the 13th quarterback to start for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999.
The game means nothing to the Steelers because they have clinched the second seed in the AFC playoffs and they cannot improve their status, but they are still the Steelers and they still love to mangle quarterbacks. The Steelers lead the league with 48 sacks.
Gradkowski is excited. He is from the Pittsburgh area and grew up waving a Terrible Towel. His first NFL start was in Heinz Field as a rookie with the Buccaneers late in 2006.
"It's an unbelievable experience going into Pittsburgh, a hostile environment," Gradkowski said. "They have great fans, just like us.
"It's going to be an exciting game. I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I know about the rivalry. I always said I'd love to play against the Steelers. I think it's more awesome playing against them in a Browns uniform."
Gradkowski threw three interceptions while completing 20 of 34 passes for 175 yards in his start against the Steelers two years ago. He was sacked five times. The Steelers won, 20-3, and got both their touchdowns off interceptions.
The Browns signed Gradkowski on Dec. 2, two days after Anderson was injured. Gradkowski played late in the fourth quarter against the Bengals after Dorsey was injured. He threw five passes and completed two for eight yards, threw an interception, was sacked once and had a passer rating of 8.3.
"It didn't last that long in Tampa, but he did get game experience," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He has got some limitations height wise because he is not the tallest guy. Also arm strength, but he is a pretty heady quarterback. He is also been somewhat of a pocket passer. He hasn't moved around out of the pocket much."
The Steelers have beaten the Browns 10 straight times and 23 times in 26 games. Gradkowski knows the Browns haven't scored a touchdown in five games and that no one is giving them a chance on Sunday. He also knows he is the fourth-string quarterback on a bad football team.
"I've been an underdog my whole life," Gradkowski said. "I don't think this is any different. We're going to prepare hard this week.
"This is a grind-it-out game. The weather is going to be cold. It's going to be a smash-mouth football game. We're looking forward to it."
--The Browns had Christmas Day off.
--KR/WR Josh Cribbs is bothered by a sprained ankle.
--NT Shaun Rogers has an ankle injury.
--LB Leon Williams has a knee injury.
--TE Kellen Winslow missed three games with a sprained ankle but hopes to play against the Steelers.
--TE Darnell Dinkins has a rib injury.